When it comes to fitness, Nina Dobrev has all sorts of skills and passions. The actor is a Reebok x Les Mills ambassador, dance cardio lover, Spartan Race finisher, yogi, and occasional rock climber. Oh, and she’s also pretty damn flexible.
Now, thanks to an Instagram video her trainer Harley Pasternak shared last week, we know one of the moves that helps Dobrev stay so strong from head to toe: glute bridges with triceps extensions.
“One of my favorite Canadians @nina doing my absolute all-time favorite exercise,” Pasternak, who has worked with Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Julianne Hough and Jessica Simpson, among other celebs, wrote in the caption alongside the video.
You can check out the video, via @harleypasternak, here:
“I love that it’s incredibly efficient,” Pasternak tells SELF via email of why he's a huge fan of this exercise. It targets two very important posterior chain muscles (muscles on the back of the body), the butt and triceps, "and requires very little equipment," he says. What’s more, “because you’re lying on your back, your heart rate really never gets too high," so you can focus in on putting all your energy into working these specific muscles.
This move combines the lower-body and core benefits of glute bridges with the upper-body and core benefits of tricep extensions, which means it’s a great total-body strengthener.
The glute bridge targets the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, quads, hamstrings, calves, and the stabilizing muscles around the ankles, Stephanie Mansour, Chicago-based certified personal trainer, tells SELF. It also works several muscles in your midsection, including your transverse abdominis (the deepest ab muscle that wraps around your sides and spine), rectus abdominis (what you think of as your abs, the muscles that run vertically on your abdomen) and the multifidus (the thin, deep muscle that runs along your spine), Mansour adds.
“It is a full lower-body exercise, like a squat, but with less impact [on your joints] than a squat because you’re on your back,” she explains.
The tricep extensions, in turn, work your triceps (the muscle on the back of the arm that lets you extend your elbow), shoulders, and the upper part of your core—“all the way up to your ribcage,” says Mansour. You’ll also passively stretch your forearms, serratus anterior (a shoulder stabilizing muscle), and lats (the broadest muscle on your back), Mike Clancy, NYC-based certified strength and conditioning specialist, tells SELF.
When paired together, glute bridges and tricep extensions have even more benefits than if you do them separately.
“This is a very functional movement,” says Clancy of the combo move. “It primes your [body] to handle multiple things at once.”
Doing both moves at once ups the intensity and improves your form on each. “You’re going to get more of a challenge through your upper body when you start thrusting your lower body because you're moving the base of support," explains Clancy.
A common mistake with tricep extensions is over-rotating the shoulder joint, she says, and this can easily happen when you perform the movement standing up. But when you lie on your back and press your hips up into the glute bridge, “you can’t over-rotate the shoulder joint because there’s pressure on the upper back” that keeps your shoulders in the correct positioning, says Mansour.
In turn, the tricep extensions stabilize your shoulder joint, which will prevent your hips and upper back from lifting too far up during the glute bridges. “This will promote you working in the right plane" and help you avoid over-extending your lower back, says Mansour.
But that’s not all. Doing the move with a band around your thighs like Dobrev will also fire up additional muscles in your lower half.
Specifically, your hip abductor muscles (outer thighs), including the glute medius (the smaller muscle on the outer side of your butt that supports the hip and rotational movement of the thigh), as they’ll have to stay engaged to work against the resistance from the band. The band can also encourage proper form—"it prevents your knees from splaying out," says Mansour, which is important for keeping your pelvis in alignment. Just be sure to put the band several inches above your knees, and not directly around the knee joint, advises Mansour. You can also do the exercise with no band and still reap lots of total-body benefits.
Here’s how to do the move:
- Grab a pair of light dumbbells and lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms and weights by your sides. Your feet should be about hip-distance apart with your heels a few inches away from your butt.
- Pick up the dumbbells and hold one in each hand. Raise your arms in the air directly above your shoulders, palms facing each other.
- Keeping your elbows still, lower both weights toward the floor until your hands are next to your ears with your elbows pointing up. This is the starting position.
- From here, simultaneously push through your heels and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up, while pressing the weights up until both arms are straight. Try to form a diagonal line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Pause for 1 to 2 seconds, then simultaneously lower your hips and arms back down to the starting position.
- This is 1 rep.
Do 10 to 20 reps. Rest and repeat for 3 total sets.
As do you each rep, “drive through the heels and visualize extending your fists up toward the ceiling with the tricep extension,” says Pasternak. Driving through your heels, as you would in a squat or lunge, will activate your hamstrings and glutes, says Mansour. Keep you feet as wide as your hips and make sure that your toes are in line with your heels (not turned out or in) and that your knees are over your heels, says Mansour. With every thrust, think about squeezing your glutes, keeping your core right, and scooping up your hips, rather than arching your back, says Clancy.
It’s also important to keep your movements slow and controlled—perhaps even slower than Dobrev, recommends Mansour. “Make sure you are fully straightening your arms to get that tricep extension before lowering back down,” she says. Hold the weights with firm wrists (don’t flex or extend them), and think about pulling your shoulders away from your ears—"otherwise you could strain your neck and your traps," says Mansour.
Lastly, focus on your breathing. Take a breath in as you lower your arms and hips, and then breathe out as you press up, suggests Clancy. The exhale will help you brace your core and thus increase your power output, he explains.
For an efficient, functional exercise that will strengthen your triceps, glutes, core, and many other muscles, consider this total-body move.